Juan Rivera: Man Crush

Scott FowlerCorrespondent IJune 30, 2009

PHOENIX - JUNE 27:  Juan Rivera #20 of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim hits a single against the Arizona Diamondbacks during the major league baseball game at Chase Field on June 27, 2009 in Phoenix, Arizona. The Angels defeated the Diamondbacks 2-1.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Ok, remember 2006?

That's when it started for me.

Who is this guy?

He's so different.

Where has he been all my life?

Ok, so that's a little much, I'll admit.

Or is it?

In 2006, Juan Rivera hit .310 with 23 HRs and 85 RBIs in 124 games.

He was on fire from July to August.

He was pencilled into starting LF last year, maybe platooning with Garret Anderson, and  he would certainly have a number of DH opportunities.

Then, it all went awry.

He severely broke his leg in winter ball and took the majority of the 2007 season off to recover, appearing in only 14 games.

2008 was rough, too, for a variety of reasons, and the slugger-in-waiting was limited to 89 games with the Angels' outfield depth chart his biggest opponent that season. (Outfielders Garrett Anderson, Torii Hunter, Vlad Guerrero, and Gary Matthews Jr. all competed alongside Rivera for playing time.)

Then the off-season happened, and to be honest, I was a little bummed.

Juan Rivera made it to the off-season a free agent, able to sign with any team, alongside lifetime Angel left fielder Garret Anderson.

In a move that surprised many (read: Me), the Halos ponied up for an extended contract, all but handing Rivera the starting role with his shiny new three-year contract.

Angels fans said goodbye to a declining Anderson and hello to their first new left fielder for years to come.

And what has happened?

Rivera has responded well to playing time and seems to be starting to get hot—real hot.

The 30 year old turns 31 on Friday, and he has had a wonderful season so far. In 66 games, he's batting .307 with 13 home runs and 43 RBI's, with three homers coming in his last six games.

With Angels' sluggers, Vladimir Guerrero and Bobby Abreu, struggling to produce home runs, the Angels have suffered only a small dip in home run production thanks to the resurrected big bat of Rivera and the just-getting-his-legs-under-him Kendry Morales.

Throw in catcher Mike Napoli's ability to get streaky with the long ball, and the Angels' new-found power potential has been an absolute revelation for Angels fans and management alike, providing hitting depth that the Angels of old did not have.

Top it off with Torii Hunter's amazing MVP numbers (17 HR's, 56 RBIs, .306 average, and about all the highlight-reel catches you can imagine in CF), and the Angels have some formidable presence in the box for the first time in years.

The best part, however, is not found in the box score but rather the field: Angels baseball is suddenly fun again.

Sure, the bullpen is still shaky at times, and our infield is a big question mark from time to time. Yet, all in all, the Angels are just starting to play to their potential.

Isn't it fun to watch, halo fans?

My man crush on Rivera is growing each day.

The Angels are a full 10 games above .500 for the first time this season, and they hold a two-and-a-half game lead on the AL West, with their next two games coming against second-place Texas in Arlington.

The starting pitching, young, old, and in between, has been lights out.

And all seems right in the baseball universe.

Let's keep that halo lit, fellas.